(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Programming

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”*…

A substantial– and important– look at a troubling current aflow in the world of technology today: Emily Gorcenski on the millenarianism and manifest destiny of AI and techno-futurism…

… Early Christian missionaries traveled the pagan lands looking for heathens to convert. Evangelical movements almost definitionally involve spreading the word of Jesus Christ as a core element of their faith. The missionary holds the key that unlocks eternal life and the only cost is conversion: the more souls saved, the holier the work. The idea of going out into the world to spread the good word and convert them to our product/language/platform is a deep tradition in the technology industry. We even hire people specifically to do that. We call them technology evangelists.

Successful evangelism has two key requirements. First, it must offer the promised land, the hope of a better life, of eternal salvation. Second, it must have a willing mark, someone desperate enough (perhaps through coercion) to be included in that vision of eternity, better if they can believe strongly enough to become acolytes themselves. This formed the basis of the crypto community: Ponzi schemes sustain only as long as there are new willing participants and when those participants realize that their own continued success is contingent on still more conversions, the incentive to act in their own best interest is strong. It worked for a while to keep the crypto bubble alive. Where this failed was in every other aspect of web3.

There’s a joke in the data science world that goes something like this: What’s the difference between statistics, machine learning, and AI? The size of your marketing budget. It’s strange, actually, that we still call it “artificial intelligence” to this day. Artificial intelligence is a dream from the 40s mired in the failures of the ’60s and ’70s. By the late 1980s, despite the previous spectacular failures to materialize any useful artificial intelligence, futurists had moved on to artificial life.

Nobody much is talking about artificial life these days. That idea failed, too, and those failures have likewise failed to deter us. We are now talking about creating “cybernetic superintelligence.” We’re talking about creating an AI that will usher a period of boundless prosperity for humankind. We’re talking about the imminence of our salvation.

The last generation of futurists envisioned themselves as gods working to create life. We’re no longer talking about just life. We’re talking about making artificial gods.

I’m certainly not the first person to shine a light on the eschatological character of today’s AI conversation. Sigal Samuel did it a few months back in far fewer words than I’ve used here, though perhaps glossing over some of the political aspects I’ve brought in. She cites Noble and Kurzweil in many of the same ways. I’m not even the first person to coin the term “techno-eschatology.” The parallels between the Singularity Hypothesis and the second coming of Christ are plentiful and not hard to see.

… The issue is not that Altman or Bankman-Fried or Andreesen or Kurzweil or any of the other technophiles discussed so far are “literally Hitler.” The issue is that high technology shares all the hallmarks of a millenarian cult and the breathless evangelism about the power and opportunity of AI is indistinguishable from cult recruitment. And moreover, that its cultism meshes perfectly with the American evangelical far-right. Technologists believe they are creating a revolution when in reality they are playing right into the hands of a manipulative, mainstream political force. We saw it in 2016 and we learned nothing from that lesson.

Doomsday cults can never admit when they are wrong. Instead, they double down. We failed to make artificial intelligence, so we pivoted to artificial life. We failed to make artificial life, so now we’re trying to program the messiah. Two months before the Metaverse went belly-up, McKinsey valued it at up to $5 trillion dollars by 2030. And it was without a hint of irony or self-reflection that they pivoted and valued GenAI at up to $4.4 trillion annually. There’s not even a hint of common sense in this analysis.

This post won’t convince anyone on the inside of the harms they are experiencing nor the harms they are causing. That’s not been my intent. You can’t remove someone from a cult if they’re not ready to leave. And the eye-popping data science salaries don’t really incentivize someone to get out. No. My intent was to give some clarity and explanatory insight to those who haven’t fallen under the Singularity’s spell. It’s a hope that if—when—the GenAI bubble bursts, we can maybe immunize ourselves against whatever follows it. And it’s a plea to get people to understand that America has never stopped believing in its manifest destiny.

David Nye described 19th and 20th century American perception technology using the same concept of the sublime that philosophers used to describe Niagara Falls. Americans once beheld with divine wonder the locomotive and the skyscraper, the atom bomb and the Saturn V rocket. I wonder if we’ll behold AI with that same reverence. I pray that we will not. Our real earthly resources are wearing thin. Computing has surpassed aviation in terms of its carbon threat. The earth contains only so many rare earth elements. We may face Armageddon. There will be no Singularity to save us. We have the power to reject our manifest destinies…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Making God,” from @EmilyGorcenski (a relay to mastodon and BlueSky).

See also: “Effective Obfuscation,” from Molly White (@molly0xFFF) and this thread from Emily Bender (@emilymbender).

* Proverbs 17:28


As we resist recruitment, we might spare a thought for Ada Lovelace (or, more properly, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, née Byron); she died on this date in 1852. A mathematician and writer, she is chiefly remembered for her work on Charles Babbage‘s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine— for which she authored what can reasonably be considered the first “computer program.” She was the first to recognize that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, and so is one of the “parents” of the modern computer.

Daguerreotype by Antoine Claudet, c. 1843 (source)

“What’s in a name?”*…

Poe’s Law –  “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

Cohen’s Law – “Whoever resorts to the argument that ‘whoever resorts to the argument that… …has automatically lost the debate’ has automatically lost the debate.”

Badger’s Law –  “any website with the word “Truth” in the URL has none in the posted content.”

Lewis’ Law – “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Time Cube Law –  “As the length of a webpage grows linearly, the likelihood of the author being a lunatic increases exponentially.”

A small selection of entries in “Eponymous Laws Part I: Laws of the Internet,” from @RogersBacon1.

[Image above: source]

* Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


As we go to school on the laws, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to Jean Sammet; she was born on this date in 1928. A pioneer in computing, she left a career as a professor of mathematics at the University of Illinois to join IBM, where she developed the computer programming language FORMAC, an extension to FORTRAN IV that was the first commonly used language for manipulating non-numeric algebraic expressions. She also wrote one of the classic histories of programming languages, Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals.


“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”*…



You might think that digital technologies, often considered a product of ‘the West,’ would hasten the divergence of Eastern and Western philosophies. But within the study of Vedanta, an ancient Indian school of thought, I see the opposite effect at work. Thanks to our growing familiarity with computing, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), ‘modern’ societies are now better placed than ever to grasp the insights of this tradition.

Vedanta summarises the metaphysics of the Upanishads, a clutch of Sanskrit religious texts, likely written between 800 and 500 BCE. They form the basis for the many philosophical, spiritual and mystical traditions of the Indian sub-continent. The Upanishads were also a source of inspiration for some modern scientists, including Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, as they struggled to comprehend quantum physics of the 20th century…

Philosopher and Vaishnava Hindu theologian Akhandadhi Das. a member of the Science and Philosophy Initiative, explains how “Modern technology is akin to the metaphysics of Vedanta.”

* Jimi Hendrix


As we muse on metaphor, we might send carefully-constructed birthday greetings to Donald Knuth; he was born on this date in 1938. A computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford, he made numerous substantive contributions to computer science, both practically and theoretically.  But he is probably best known as the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming, which he began in 1962, began to publish in 1968… and has (via multiple revisions/additions) still not finished.  Called by the New York Times “the profession’s defining treatise,” it won Knuth the Turing Award in 1974.

That said, it’s surely worth noting Knuth’s other major contribution to our modern zeitgeist: his “Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures,” published in Issue 33 of Mad Magazine when he was 19 years old.

192px-knuthatopencontentalliance source


Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 10, 2019 at 1:01 am

“More poetry, less demo”*…


School for Poetic Computation is an artist run school in New York that was founded in 2013. A small group of students and faculty work closely to explore the intersections of code, design, hardware and theory — focusing especially on artistic intervention. It’s a hybrid of a school, residency and research group…

The school for poetic computation is organized around exploring the creative and expressive nature of computational approaches to art and design. The school approaches writing code like creative writing — focusing on the mechanics of programming, the demystification of tools, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.

We value the craft necessary to realize an idea, recognizing that every writer needs space and time to hone their trade. Our school aims to provide a safe haven for you to get acquainted with the craft of coding at your own pace, make it your own, and investigate the space between creative process and craft. This takes conversations with colleagues and the right push at the right time.

The school aims to be more than a technical bootcamp. It is an opportunity to work intensively with a small group of students, faculty, and artists to explore questions about the poetics of computation. For us, computation is poetic when technology is used for critical thinking and aesthetic inquiry – a space where logic meets electricity (hardware), math meets language (software) and analytical thinking meets creative experimentation…

More about the New York City-based School here; more projects (larger and more legible) here; and more background, via the School’s blog, here.

* motto of the School for Poetic Computation


As we get past the do loops to just do it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1667 that Samuel Pepys took delivery of the first recorded glass-fronted bookcase.  He wrote in his famous diary:

“So took up my wife and home, there I to the office, and thence with Sympson, the joyner home to put together the press he hath brought me for my books this day, which pleases me exceedingly.”

and a few days later he wrote:

“and then comes Sympson to set up my other new presses for my books, and so he and I fell into the furnishing of my new closett … so I think it will be as noble a closett as any man hath.”

These cabinets– each with paired glazed doors in 21 small panes, over a low section, also with glazed panes, made to hold large folio volumes– are believed to be the same bookcases on display in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge.




Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 17, 2014 at 1:01 am

Where’s the Beef?…

Photographer Dominic Episcopo is a man of ecumenical enthusiasms– fashion, reportage and editorial, portraiture… and food.  Not content with simple still life, “The United Steaks of America” makes his meat do double duty…

As we proclaim “well done,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that the first test program in FORTRAN ran.  FORTRAN (The IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System) was the first successful general purpose programming language, the first real alternative to assembly language.  It reduced the number of programming statements necessary to operate a machine by a factor of 20, so quickly gained acceptance.  It’s still in use, especially in high-performance computing.

FORTRAN coded on a punch card

Your correspondent is headed to parts distant, where connectivity is likely to be an issue.  So these missives won’t resume, at least at anything like their normal rhythm, for a week or so

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